In spirit and in truth

"You shall not covet your neighbour's house. You shall not covet your neighbour's wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour." Exodus 20.17


With the possible exception of the 5th Commandment (Honour your parents), this 10th Commandment is unique in that it has to do with our attitude rather than our behaviour. In its injunction to purge our feelings towards what belongs to our neighbour we see the foundation of Jesus' moral teaching, which reaches beyond outward behaviour into the deeper recesses of our hearts and minds.


What would it look like if the ethical discourse of our times balanced public morality with the underlying impulses which govern how we behave? So instead of endless arguments about our rights we would devote at least as much time to discussing how we can better care for one another and for the environment we share. Instead of public expressions of rage, be they concerning statues or jobs, could we think creatively together about learning from our past and using those lessons to develop a fairer society for all?


Not coveting our neighbour's possessions does not amount to a mandate for isolationism (you in your small corner , I in mine), Indeed coveting can be good, as we one says "I covet your prayers" (ie please pray for me!). Initially it is about mutual respect. At a deeper level it is about checking what could develop into a more sinister impulse which could then lead to offensive, even criminal, behaviour. Learning to distinguish between our virtuous and malevolent instincts is a process of maturing, in which we cultivate the ability to exercise self-control, one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5. 22f).

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